The capital of the republic is hit. Perhaps, the attack on the wholesale market of fruits and vegetables the other day in Islamabad is the biggest terrorist attack in the capital since the massive bombing of the Marriott Hotel some years ago.
According to initial reports, explosives were packed into a crate of guavas. It took more than 20 lives instantly, and about the same number of people is told to be in a critical condition. We don’t know yet how many will survive and whether they will ever be able to lead a normal life. More than a hundred are injured and hospitalised. We don’t know how many will remain able-bodied afterward and whether it will be possible for them to work again to support their families.
No act of violence is welcome. But deplorable as it may be, attacking those who are in power and seen as making decisions that go against you, or killing those who are involved in a physical battle against you can be understood at one level. Killing innocent citizens in the name of an ideology, faith, liberation movement or political cause amounts to sheer callousness. It is a blatant crime committed against common people. In Pakistan, not only do terrorists of various hues and colours commit these crimes with complete impunity, the state collapses on a daily basis to protect the lives, liberties and properties of its citizens.
But what property is to be protected for a woman or a man belonging to the working class in Pakistan? It is only her or his life. S/he has a simple and difficult life to lead, perpetually struggling to support herself and the kith and kin in order to survive, and only enjoying the liberty to move to the workplace and be back home. Even that is being taken away. What hurts more is the pride terrorist outfits would take in killing the most ordinary women and men, seeing them as soft targets. What causes much greater pain is the inability of the Pakistani state to save its citizens.
As citizens, we will not hold the militant outfits and terror groups responsible for inflicting death, pain and suffering on the people of Pakistan. It is our state and successive governments that are responsible for their wrong actions in the past or concerted inaction at present, for their continuous failure to protect us. Not to mention their massive incompetence and failure to help all citizens lead a decent, prosperous and honourable life.
Let us have a look at the profile of those killed, injured or maimed in the wholesale market of Islamabad. Most of them must be fruit and vegetable vendors, hardly making their ends meet, or common citizens who think they will save a few rupees if they buy fruits and vegetables from wholesalers than retailers.
We do not know yet who perpetrated this attack as the claim made by a Baloch separatist outfit was rubbished by the interior ministry. Even if the Baloch separatists have made a rightful claim, does that particular group of Baloch secessionists think that the guava-sellers are consulted in by the federation while making policy or by the FC when it acts in Kalat, Khuzdar or Turbat? Has eliminating or pushing out barbers, milk sellers, schoolteachers, construction labourers, carpenters and masons from Balochistan helped the cause in anyway in the recent past?
Many of us believe that Balochistan as a province and the Baloch as a people have been denied their rights in our federation for too long. We stand with them in their struggle for realisation of their economic, political and cultural rights. We stand with them in asking for an immediate end to forced disappearances and military action by the Pakistani state. We condemn mass graves found anywhere. We do not accept the view of the powers that be, which squarely place the blame on Baloch tribal chieftains for the poverty and dispossession that Balochistan is subjected to.
Again, it was the failure of our state in meeting the basic needs and ensuring the fundamental rights of its Baloch citizens, not the responsibility of the sardars – many of who collaborated with the state anyway. We recognise that for decades when chappatis were baked in Lahore on the stoves fired by the natural gas piped from Balochistan and the industry in Karachi used natural gas supplied from and metals extracted from the ores in Balochistan, the province and its people neither had gas to cook with or to heat up their homes with during the harsh winters.
We also know that schools were not built, hospitals were not established, roads were not paved and industry was not set up in areas of Balochistan that fed the Pakistani elite and middle class in other provinces and the civil and military institutions they dominate. However, it is time for the disgruntled Baloch to ask how the killing of ordinary citizens and those belonging to the working class anywhere serve their cause. Will that not escalate violence in the province and make it increasingly difficult for their genuine advocates to plead their case?
The TTP has also denied its involvement but it is now increasingly obvious to most that the outfit is not necessarily a strong monolith. There may be some from the ranks of its coalition or outsiders who were involved even if the core was not. We don’t know. But if fruit and vegetable vendors are attacked in the name of faith or an ideology by anyone, one must ask if any of these people killed or injured participated in making decisions about their country playing a part in the war on terror in Afghanistan or in the tribal regions of Pakistan.
How many cauliflower sellers on the streets of Rawalpindi and Islamabad were consulted before the Swat operation or before making air sorties in Fata? Did they ever exist for those planning drone strikes in our tribal regions? Did they help the Americans smoke out Saddam Hussein in Iraq or get Osama bin Laden trapped in his hideout near Abbottabad?
As far as the state and its ruling elite are concerned, they need to be reminded again and again what Hazrat Ali once said. “A profane state or government can surely survive but a cruel one never can.” What is meted out to them is not what the already struggling working and lower middle classes of Pakistan deserve. For them, prosperity is far away. The state is not even able to defend their right to life.
Knowing how our country and its economy works for its less privileged classes, one such attack will push hundreds of families in the throes of abject poverty. Doling out a couple of hundred thousand rupees – at the most – for each casualty will serve no purpose either. This money will be spent in a few weeks if they have to nurse the injured or else used to pay off a part of the debt such families are normally trapped in.
By killing a cobbler in the Nazimabad neighbourhood of Karachi for being a Pakhtun, an office clerk in the Baldia neighbourhood of the same city for being a Mohajir, a student leader in Khuzdar for being a Baloch rights activist, an unemployed political activist in Ghotki for being a Sindhi, a primary schoolteacher in Mastung for being a Punjabi, a shopkeeper in Quetta for being Shia, a worshipper in Lahore for being Ahmadi, a labourer in a church in Peshawar for being Christian and a fruit vendor in Islamabad for a reason still unknown, nothing will be achieved. But the state, in no uncertain terms, will dwindle fast.